Monday, January 2, 2012

Not Another Resolution

It's that time of year again. I'm honestly not that much of a fan of New Year's Resolutions although I do believe in setting goals I've always thought a resolution made for the new year is a little artificial but here I am making a New Years Resolution. The timing is right, almost my entire family was staying with us for the Christmas period and we had a lot of great meals and ate a lot of great food so now I need to recover from that week of gastronomic debauchery and get moving towards my larger goals. So that begs the question, what are my larger goals? I'm going to lay them all out here in public where all three of the people who read my blog can see them and hold me accountable.

My overall goal is to get buff by summer. Vain and somewhat shallow but a worthy goal and fairly reasonable in my opinion.

  1. Lose 30 more pounds - Technically my ideal weight is still 50 pounds away but I'm convinced I'll be a wraith if I lose that much weight so I'm going to aim to lose 30 pounds.
  2. Decrease Body Fat from 25% to 15%.
  3. Achieve a 32" waist
  4. Improve blood lipids, mostly increase HDL and decrease TG. Last test it HDL was 32, would like to see it up closer to 50 and TG was 101 (down from 325) would like to see that under 100.

To make these goals a little more concrete I'll do some math. Losing 30 lb a week by summer gives me roughly 20 weeks which means I need to lose 1.5 a week on average. As I said, that's quite achievable.

So how am I going to do it?
  1. Eating Primal (of course)
  2. Track food and exercise like an anal retentive b@stard. Track every morsel.
  3. Calorie cycling - This is something new I'm trying where I'm eating my RMR (roughly 2000 calories) on the days I'm lifting weights and RMR - 500 on the days I'm not. I actually experimented with this for one week in December and I found it quite easy to do.
  4. Cheat day - One day a week I'm going to have a cheat day of RMR x 2, so roughly 4000 calories. That day I will eat anything I want provided I stay under 4000 calories.
  5. Lift weights 3 times a week.
  6. Cardiovascular exercise 5 times week for 45 - 60 minutes.
  7. Walk the dog every morning for 30 minutes.
  8. At some point I may consider following Lyle McDonald's Rapid Fat Loss Handbook for a couple of weeks. It's a very tough low carb diet but I respect Lyle's knowledge and love his blog so I'll consider doing it for a couple of weeks to blast through a plateau or just move things a long. Lyle himself admits this is a very tough diet designed for people to lose a lot of weight quickly.

So where does all this come from? I read a book by a member of the food diary site I'm now a member of ( called The Spike Diet. I think he could work on the name a little but I felt his ideas were pretty sound although he doesn't push a low carb or Primal diet I felt it could be modified easily enough. He suggests the calorie cycling and the cheat day impact Leptin Signaling so that you avoid the drop in metabolic rate that is associated with all calorie restricted dieting. This gels with other sources including Lyle who builds a cheat day into all his diet plans for the same reasons. Of course, there are also psychological benefits to a free day and my own anecdotal experience has shown that I often lose more weight when I cheat over the weekend.

You may also notice that there is a lot of cardiovascular exercise in my plan. I decided it was time to just hit the gym hard I'm already going there to lift weights I may as well do some hard core cardio at the same time and really burn some calories. No more excuses. This is the year I can be thin, healthy and buff. It's not even that far away.

This week I'm focusing on just getting back into the routine, hitting the gym, I'm probably going to eat a little less this week, I'm seriously still full from last week. I hope to undo most of the damage I did and I'll weight myself on Saturday morning and consider that the starting point for my efforts.

So that's my New Year's Resolution. Reach the end of this long weight loss journey and be ready for summer.

Wish me luck.

Friday, December 9, 2011

There Are No Hacks

For a while now I've been searching for a hack that might help me lose weight faster. I've occasionally found something that seemed to speed it up slightly like the Leptin Reset but that tapered off. I should digress for a moment and point out that I realize the Leptin Reset is about more than just fast weight loss, it's about addressing a myriad of metabolic and hormonal issues that might impact someone in many ways one of which is weight gain. It's also about gaining Leptin Sensitivity which should help with longer term weight loss. Low carb/Primal didn't really speed things up substantially (although I do like it as a WOE and I think it's an easier diet in many ways due to increased satiety) neither did Intermittent Fasting or a Ketogenic diet although I think IF is a useful tool and is something I will consider using at the right time. Ketogenic diets don't seem to offer a metabolic advantage and beyond treating some symptoms of various diseases is probably not that relevant to me. So I'm struck by the sad realization that it's just a long slow haul and it really all comes down to will power. I knew this already, it's not like I thought we could throw the laws of thermodynamics out the window, but I did hope for an approach that would help with satiety and perhaps result in some greater utilization of fat stores. Hey, losing 100 lb is hard, was hoping for a little bit of help.

On the flip side is exercise where I also explored what are the best options to help me lose weight through exercise in the most efficient manner. It's not like I wasn't expecting to do plenty of hard work, I have no problem with working up a sweat, but surely there are some approaches that result in optimal body re-composition. I've looked at fasted HIIT but it seems like it's most effective for those with > 35% BF or < 15% BF, go figure. Of course, sprinting is a good choice, so is HIIT but doing it fasted doesn't seem to offer much benefit unless you're really fat or really thin. It IS good to lift weights, helps retain lean body mass (you can even build a little while in calorie deficit if you are really fat or a beginner - I might be past that stage now) and has lots of other great side-effects, sadly weight loss isn't one of them. It's good to do cardiovascular exercise as well, sprinting or HIIT as I mentioned but we're back to burn some calories, hit the gym, spent 45 minutes on the elliptical, go for a run, play some racquetball and so on. Not exactly exciting and motivational, I've been doing that shit my whole life.

I've been considering some less exotic options to help me progress such as a juice fast, trying IF again perhaps a couple of days a week or increase my calorie burn substantially to thousands of exercise calories a week, maybe all of the above. I like this post on breaking a plateau:

I've made the same observations that a big change is often needed to break a plateau. Whether this has a physiological affect or just a psychological one I have no idea. My point is, I'm willing to try just about anything to shift the weight and reach my goals. I recognize that it's very hard to keep up a sustained high level of will power and motivation especially in the face of very slow results. Using different approaches helps maintain that momentum at least for me. Many people, especially dieticians and doctors would hear that and say "you need to eat a balanced, sustainable diet that will work in the long run", I don't agree. The reality is, every health marker is generally improved by losing weight, in fact, I suspect you're be better of losing weight on the twinkie diet if it meant losing more weight than you would by following a standard "healthy" weight loss plan, provided of course you transition to a healthier long term diet. There of course is the critical point but in my case, I've experimented so much with my diet, I track everything I eat and do and so I could easily transition from a slightly more extreme diet to a "normal" diet. I'm not saying I'm starting a juice fast tomorrow but I do have a different perspective on how to lose the rest of this weight and that is, just lose it anyway I can, I can maintain the lower weight, it's getting there that's a bitch.

The exploration is not over it's not like science has uncovered all nutritional mysteries or that my interpretation couldn't be flawed just that what I've discovered so far is that when it comes to weight loss there is no free lunch. There are no hacks (well, no good ones) and it all comes down to how badly you want it. I don't regret what I've experimented with and learned thus far, it's helped me lose 55 lb and drop to 25% body fat, that's not a bad effort. It's just that now I am having to get my head around the fact that I'm faced with a long haul of dieting and exercise. As I said, I never expected it to be easy but I suppose I was hoping for at least a change of scenery.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

I'm Bad, I'm Back

Okay, I've been bad, I did exactly what I said I wouldn't do and I stopped posting. I do have some pretty good excuses ranging from work exploding in several weeks of endless all-nighters, massive stress, to a nasty gastro virus that wiped me out for nearly a week. It's no excuse, but here I am. I didn't completely lose it from a nutritional standpoint but I wasn't exactly on track either and I stopped working out. Then came thanksgiving so I decided to just reset and start again this week. The good news is I didn't really gain weight, I managed to keep things mostly under control but I don't want to stagnate I want to make more progress. So this week I'm back on the wagon. I'm following Leptin Reset, I've been hitting the gym and following a new routine and also walking daily. Tomorrow I have a HIIT workout planned. Hopefully I can kick start some more weight loss and body fat reduction, it's time to lose the next 30 lb or so.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Holy Primal

I was watching one of the videos from the Ancestral Health Symposium a while ago, in fact, it was a video of Robb Wolf's presentation and he said something that really resonated with me. He said (to paraphrase) how we must work to avoid the Ancestral Health Movement becoming a religion because once it does we will lose much of the audience we are trying to reach. It becomes self-serving, dogmatic and essentially the same as so many other approaches to diet and lifestyle that ignore reality and cherry pick studies or conventional wisdom to support their belief system. Brilliant. It's so true and it's what drew me to Primal in the first place. I noted how what is allowed and not allowed has been changed over the years based on research and experience. In Primal, everything is viewed through the lens of evolution but that doesn't mean it's a form of tunnel vision because that evolutionary lens is just one way of filtering information or framing approaches to nutrition and lifestyle. Although dairy is clearly not a "Primal food" it's fine if you tolerate it well. It also encourages an n=1 perspective meaning it's about finding out what is right for you so it becomes more of a framework to help you discover what is your optimum milieu rather than a rigid set of rules based on a narrow view of the universe. In my opinion this is what a nutritional framework should look like.

So I become concerned when I see people say "that's not primal", or "we couldn't have eaten that prior to agriculture so I'm not going to". In my mind, that's not the point. There is nothing to say that us big-brained homo sapiens couldn't divine the perfect synthetic food although it's seems like we haven't as yet. The point is that we can use evolutionary theory, paleontology, anthropology among other disciplines to help filter and sort the massive amounts of information regarding nutrition and health. It's a tool, the primary tool it just so happens for those following a Primal lifestyle, but it's still just a tool. It's not dogma to be followed and applied at all costs. In my opinion, Primal should be about what the science tells me is optimal for me in my specific circumstance informed by and shaped by how it fits into the evolutionary history of our species. It should be based on deep science and always be open to change. That is what will really set it apart from the myriad of other diets out there.

We should also consider that the "lens" of evolution is a dirty, smudgy one, we'll never know with absolute certainty what our Paleolithic ancestors consumed (unless some older, advanced alien race built a time machine at least a few thousand hundred years ago but no more than 1-2 million years ago - but I'm being really geeky right now). Beyond that it's likely that there wasn't a single world wide Paleo diet it would have varied based on the local flora and fauna. However, we do know some things for sure, we could not have eaten twinkies and loaves of white bread every day there simply wasn't the technology necessary to create these foods. I do find it odd how many people scoff at the idea of the ancestral diet, calling it the "caveman diet" when if they were informed they would know that much of science is viewed through the lens of evolution. It's a seminal theory that has a myriad of applications and applying it to nutrition science is brilliant and long overdue. Another interesting factoid is that Cordain's work determining the hunter gather diet was used to support the lipid hypothesis back in the 70s because his original conclusion was that we ate a relatively low saturated fat diet (think he was trying to appeal to the status quo?). He later reversed that finding when they recalculated the nutritional profile based on eating the entire animal. I find it interesting that an approach to nutritional science used to justify the lipid hypothesis accepted by so many is then rejected by the same people when used to justify a Paleo diet. Taubes discusses this briefly in Why We Get Fat. Never the less, it's not easy to determine what we ate all those millenia ago, although we have some sophisticated tools at our disposal such as stable isotope studies, it's still a stab in the dark. So we always need to think critically, ask ourselves could this all be wrong and be willing to accept change.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

I'm not perfect and I like it that way

I have been thinking a lot recently about the pros and cons of following a strict diet and optimizing myself to the nth degree. Optimization involves experimentation to determine the optimal diet, testing to confirm the diet is having the right impact and then having a positive mental attitude. As a regular poster on MDA often says, to paraphrase, "Our thoughts change our DNA". By optimizing we can expect to reap a plethora or benefits including weight loss, looking good naked, more energy, better longevity. Sounds great, but despite that long list of benefits something is missing. The way I see it, life is messy and in many ways it's more fun that way.

Recently I completed 6 weeks following a strict Primal diet with specific meal timings as part of the Leptin Reset prescription as laid out by Dr Kruse. I'm glad I did it, I felt a great sense of accomplishment, I set out to follow it strictly for 6 weeks and I did, kudos to me. I lost 11 lb in that time, not bad, that's more consistent than my normal weight loss efforts and I noticed a whole host of changes as predicted by the good doctor. However, I found myself wondering at times whether I could eat that way forever and the answer I always arrived at was a big fat NO. I also felt this kind of fatigue, a deep-seated, mind-numbing, subtle fatigue that gnawed away at me. I didn't realize it at first, especially when I was losing 3 lb a week but over time I gradually felt just tired. Not physically tired but mentally fatigued. Then my wife mentioned that I had seemed unhappy for some time in fact, she said it to me multiple times. At that point I had to ask myself, why am I feeling this way, I'm normally a level headed, overwhelmingly positive dude so why had that changed? It could be the diet but then the food I was ingesting for the most part was the same as before just different timings. It could also be the lack of sleep due to our beautiful baby girl doing decidedly ugly things at 3am or maybe it was the cold turkey from diet soda. It then dawned on me that perhaps it was everything, a combination of numerous factors that conspired to remove much of my mental support structure.

I have heard of the concept of "tent poles" used in terms of important events that are part of a relationship that add strength to that relationship. The shared experiences that can support a relationship for the long haul. Another commonly referred to mental support is that of a "crutch", a habit (often a bad one) that provides a buffer or strength when dealing with adversity. My minor (okay, very minor) epiphany was that many of my psychological crutches had evaporated either because I removed them or because life and circumstances had a meeting and decided they would remove them too. Some examples of that support structure are small things like reaching into the fridge for that can of ice-cold diet soda that says "you can drink me and enjoy me guilt free" or dinner on a Saturday night with my wife in a warm coal fired pizza place, the bub sound asleep and some delicious food on order. So without those support structures I found myself with no mental breaks, no refuge and that was taking it's toll.

I should take a moment and clarify that we're not talking about a mental break down here. People deal with far worse on a regular basis, I'm fortunate to live a pretty good life, but nonetheless I obviously wasn't happy at a time when I had many reasons to be be happy.

After my minor epiphany and my wife pointed out that I seemed unhappy I decided it was time to step back a little. The reality was that the diet I was eating was probably more optimal, not having cheat days meant more consistent weight loss (probably) and skipping diet soda was definitely a good thing. So what could I change? How could I put back some of those mental crutches I removed? I decided to bring back lunch and cheat meals and to adjust my attitude slightly. Skipping lunch was just my attempt to do the best job of the diet possible but what I lost was a welcome respite during the day which often would include an enjoyable meal and maybe reading a few blogs or watching part of a DVD or even just sitting outside cooking something on the BBQ. Next up was cheat meals which I have had regularly for the last 6 months or so every Saturday night. That meal is often so much more than just some extra calories and shock horror, some grain, it's a couple of hours of turning off the nutrition-Nazi and just reveling in good company and good food. The meal is also a time to reconnect with my wife because there is just something different about hedonism shared. That doesn't mean every Saturday night should be an exercise in gastronomic debauchery, the meal can be a slight cheat or sometimes a pretty big one, the point is, the choices are wide open.

The attitude change involved just thinking a little differently in reconnecting with something I've always believed. You see, I believe life is meant to be a little messy, sometimes we should just enjoy the ride and if that means I'm not 100% optimal all the time then so be it.

Once I arrived at this conclusion is was like a great weight was lifted from shoulders. I'm still just as devoted to my health and fitness goals but there is little point in pursuing them if the process results in a degradation in mental health. I will reach those goals eventually and at some point I may not need some of those crutches but I will choose to walk without them when the time is right. I have noticed that I'm developing new ones like spending a few minutes with my daughter at times throughout the day. I suppose we adapt and find new survival strategies, but it's probably better done gradually than all at once.

Sorry Dr K and everyone on the MDA Leptin Reset thread, I'm not optimal, I'm not perfect, but I like myself better that way (and so does my wife).

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Reconnecting with Sprinting

I've never liked running. Of any kind, period. For starters, when you're not buff stuff jiggles a bit, not an enjoyable experience, especially when you're the sex that's not meant to have jiggly bits. Secondly it's boring as hell. I also admit to some negative associations because for many years I was dragged out of bed at 6am by my parents or my sister to sleepily dress and put shoes on followed by stretching, usually in silence. That sort of silence that indicates everyone would rather still be asleep and in a way still are. We'd then make our way out through this big opaque yellow glass door that was a quasi-secret entrance on the side of our house and proceed to jog in various places around the neighborhood. Sometimes it was the playing field other times it was just the local streets. My favorite was a nature reserve along the water although you had to jog a little way before you found it, so it had it's pros and cons to my childish mind. The overgrown paths and the view of the water let my imagination wander and the foliage offered some quiet, cool relief from the early morning sun. My family of course was trying to help me and themselves as well and I honestly believe it did. To this day I have a much higher level of cardiovascular fitness than many of my friends including those much thinner and I attribute that to those years of jogging and exercise even if I wasn't very keen at the time. I distinctly remember my sister practically dragging me out of bed and as I slogged around the streets I would feel quite sorry for myself. She would call to me to hurry up as I jogged up a hill and I would yell back "I'm coming!" in an exasperated tone. Once I grew a little older the jogging stopped, sometimes replaced by fast walks along the coast but I never returned to running, the closest I would get was the treadmill and even that was a fast walk, never a run. In my mind I wasn't really designed for running, more of a shuffle or a fast walk, others, those lean people with seemingly endless energy are the ones designed to run and as far as I was concerned they could keep it.

In my recent efforts to obtain better health I came to the conclusion that dragging my flailing limbs through hours of cardiovascular exercise wasn't the best way to lose weight either. My main concern has been retaining muscle mass while losing body fat so I focused on weight training. I tried the occasional jog and I used a jump rope but I hated it and in then end dropped them from my regular routine. Recently I started thinking it was time to shake up my exercise routine and I took another look at Primal Blueprint Fitness (PBF). I had skimmed it previously and it was interesting but sprinting? Yeah, blah blah, ATP, short and long muscle fibers, whatever. No thanks. More recently, my experiences with the Leptin Reset including many discussions with others on MDA, has opened my mind to many alternatives and it's expanded my universe in some unexpected ways. So last week I decided I would finally try sprinting as per PBF.

So on a Thursday afternoon, after quick final review of the beginner sprint instructions I strapped on the heart rate monitor, loaded the puppy (a 65 lb Golden Retriever) into the car and headed to the local park. As I walked onto the grass, the mutt sniffing the ground excitedly (ooh, squirrel poo), I wondered what the hell I was doing. Suddenly I felt way too big to even think about running and what if hurt my knee or worse? I could just see it, "Local man found dead in park, one hand clutching knee the other one his chest.". Skinny people sprint, fat people waddle and then eat a hot dog. Still, I was here and the puppy would not be happy if I dragged her back to the car so soon. The instructions were to start with 6x50m sprints at just a moderate pace as a warm up, focusing on your stride, getting comfortable etc. Then 6x50m sprints at 75% maximum. You do that for a few weeks before going all out. Sounded easy enough. I picked a spot where two benches were separated by a wide expanse of nice soft-looking grass estimating it to be about the length of an Olympic swimming pool. Before starting I sat for a moment on the bench to take in my surroundings. I could smell the grass and hear lawn mowers in the distance. The only other sounds were the rhythmic thumping of joggers as they sauntered past. By this time the puppy had found a home in the shade under the bench and was busily licking my ankle, salty I suppose. I decided I had to start eventually so I encouraged her out from under the bench and we started into a tentative jog that gradually increased in speed. I tried to focus on my stride although I belatedly realized I didn't really know what the proper stride looks like so I just took my best guess. This isn't so bad I thought and the mutt looked exceptionally pleased although she kept looking back at me as if to say "is that it?". I reached the other bench and sat down with no small amount of relief. Well, eleven more to go I thought and I don't feel so bad. The instructions were to rest one minute between each sprint so I timed myself as I sat there before standing up again ready for another run. I completed the warm up runs and at this point sweat was pouring off me and the puppy was looking at me like I'd just completely betrayed her. She is used to air conditioning and a bowl of cool water always on hand I suppose. I took a break for a few moments and suddenly it dawned on me, this is not so bad. In fact, this is kind of fun.

Courtesy of tangywolf's (Flickr)
I stepped up to the grass again taking a deep breath enhaling the scent of the recently cut grass and feeling the warm sun streaming down on my face and neck. I could feel the expansion and contraction of the Golden's panting as she sat, poised ready to run. I launched into a near full sprint, probably a slow waddle compared to someone actually good at it, but felt pretty fast to me. The wind was rushing past my face, the puppy was pushing ahead, the faster I ran the larger the gap widened, she was having a blast, you could tell she was in her element, her stride lengthed and I knew I had no hope but I kept up the pace and then suddenly almost before it began I was at the other bench taking big lung-fulls of air and wondering why the hell I didn't think to bring a bottle of water. I felt exhilarated, endorphins were obviously kicking in and it dawned on me why runners like doing this stuff so much (still think they are mostly nuts). As I completed the rest of the sprints it occurred to me that I had been a little to harsh, sprinting is not that bad, it's better than bad, it's actually good and better yet, it took me about 15 minutes and my calorie burn was off the chart and my heart rate stayed elevated for a long time afterwards. Way better than slogging away on a treadmill for an hour.

I've been back to the park two more times since and I actually look forward to it. Really. No kidding, I really do. I swear. So mum and dad, sis, big opaque yellow glass door, I've been too hard on running, it's just taken a couple of decades to come to appreciate it.

Mark's argument against chronic cardio:

Tabata sprints (I'm working up to these):

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Progress Slowed is Still Progress

As I mentioned in my Leptin - A Hack that Finally Works post, I was losing 3 lb a week for a while when doing the Leptin Reset Protocol. I had dreams of this continuing for months and me reaching my goals although I knew that was unlikely. Well, the weight loss for the last couple of weeks has slowed to 1.4 lb a week, which is honestly not too bad. It's still more consistent than what I experienced prior  to the LR and is a reasonable rate to lose weight. I do noticed other changes like clothes continuing to fit differently and better muscle tone. These are harder to measure directly but are detectable nonetheless. I have eliminated weekly cheat meals for a month now and diet soda completely for three weeks which means I'm also artificial sweetener free. I'm considering looking for another hack that may give me a temporary speed increase, every extra pound is a step closer to the goal and it's a morale booster to see the scale shift a little more every now and then. So here are some options I'm considering:
  1. Eliminate Dairy - I actually don't eat that much dairy at the moment, don't drink any milk, but I do eat a fair amount of cheese and a little cream so I could fairly easily cut it out and see if I see an improvement.
  2. Eliminate Nightshades - I'm not sure if these can have a direct impact on weight loss but many doing the LR removed them from their diet and Dr K recommends avoiding nightshades.
  3. Try to eat dinner earlier and go to bed earlier. This is a big part of fixing a damaged hormone regulatory system as proposed by Dr K. It's a struggle though since my wife and I have a 2 month old baby so sleep is sometimes elusive.
  4. Increase intake of omega 3s. This is a big part of the Primal diet and something I try to follow by it's tough at time. A major contributor to this effort is to eat more grass fed beef which we've been trying to do. Also, I need to improve my supplementation.
  5. Increase vegetable consumption further. My carb intake is possibly a little low although I have no solid reason to think eating more will improve weight loss it's something I can experiment with.
  6. Continue with the weekly sprinting and weight lifting but walk more. I'm not doing enough moderate exercise because all that walking just takes up time. Nonetheless I think I need to look at ways to squeeze it in. A daily morning walk with the dog is probably a good idea and if I work on number 3 a little bit I'll get enough sleep to pull it off.

Honestly, I can definitely work on 4 and 5 without too many issue, number 3 is almost impossible and 1 and 2 and quite probable. So I think I'm going to stop eating cheese starting tomorrow and when we hit the supermarket I'm going to pick up a bunch of vegetables but I'll skip any nightshades which will help address 2 and 5. Number 6 is something I'm going to work on too, it's tough to fit everything in with a demanding job but I think it's worth it plus I've been feeling guilty that the mutt is not getting sufficient exercise.

I'm not confident any of these changes will improve the speed at which I'm losing weight, my body just seems to find homeostasis yet again, but hey, maybe a few of these changes will result in a bit extra lost for a few weeks, totally worth it.